by Tom Gaylord
Writing as B.B. Pelletier

This report covers:

  • Introduction
  • What is a called flyer?
  • Airguns are unique
  • How are flyers called?
  • I became a better shooter
  • The skill transfers


Today’s report was at the request of reader Chris USA. He responded to a comment made by reader Matt61,

On “called flyers”, what is that exactly? Do you call it (before) the pellet hits ? or,…is it a choice you make (after) the shot hits ? Follow through and keeping the eye on the target, after the shot,…I find that most of the time that I know (before) the pellet hits that I messed up. It’s an instinct, but one I am still working on.

Do you call a “flyer” after or before the shot hits ? If before,…you better be pretty darn quick about it !

The conversation went on to question how it was possible to call a flyer that left the airgun in a few milliseconds. Do humans really have reaction times that fast? Not really, but reaction time has nothing to do with calling flyers.

I told Chris I would address this subject soon, and today is the day. What is a called flyer and how can it be called?

What is a called flyer?

A called flyer is a shot that the shooter knows did not go to the place he intended. He knows where the shot went before he sees the hole in the target. To answer Chris’ first question, a called flyer is called before the shooter sees where the shot went. It has everything to do with the sight picture the shooter sees when the shot breaks, and his knowing exactly when the shot breaks. The latter is a function of the trigger. Only a trigger that is predictable will allow the shooter to concentrate on the sight picture at the moment of firing.

Airguns are unique

This is where airguns differ from firearms, because every airgun powerplant is unique in this respect. A pneumatic acts like a firearm. When you hear the sound of the shot, the pellet has already left the barrel. A spring-piston gun is different. You feel the shot before you hear it. And you feel it while the pellet is still in the barrel. Maybe those two things (feeling and hearing) happen too close to one another to separate them, but the shooter with a little experience knows when the pellet has left the barrel. That matters, because with a spring gun it is possible to do things that influence the pellet after the sear has released the piston but before the pellet starts moving. This is where follow-through becomes so important, and also where the artillery hold gets so much of its value.

How are flyers called?

Back to the subject — how can a shooter know when a shot has not gone to its intended point of impact? The answer became suddenly evident to me when I was practicing to shoot a 10-meter target air pistol. I think I saw it first during dry-fire practice. I would hold the pistol exactly as I would when shooting and the trigger was breaking as it always did, but the gun was not firing. All the literature said that the front sight was the most important sight element. Keep that in focus and everything falls into place.

I noticed that sometimes there was an involuntary twitch in my shooting arm that moved the front sight to one side of the rear notch. I knew that shot would not have gone where I wanted. It would have gone in whichever direction the front sight went. If it went to the left side of the rear notch, the shot would have gone to the left. That was the most common direction, by the way, because I am a right-handed shooter.

Noticing the relationship of the front sight and rear sight notch at the instant of firing is how shots are called.

Sight picture 1

Sight picture 2

The next time I shot pellets, I found I was doing the same thing — seeing where the front sight was, relative to the rear notch, when the shot fired and saying where the shot went. I was now calling my shots. In fact, I was calling them so accurately that I was surprised. This was a skill that other gun writers had touched on but I was never able to repeat before now.

I became a better shooter

Once I saw that this worked, the shooting world came into much sharper focus. I could score a 10-meter pistol target from the firing line before seeing it. I was usually right, too. My average score increased by many points, once I gained this skill.

And guns with open sights are where calling the shot originated. It’s pretty difficult to not know where a shot goes when you can see it through a telescopic sight. Calling the shot originated with the first accurate firearm — the Kentucky long rifle.

The skill transfers

The skill I acquired transferred to other guns as well. Now I learned to hold steady through the shot no matter how severe the recoil, just so I could see the shot at the moment of release. My former way of shooting now seemed more like wishful sniping — blasting away at a target and hoping for the best. Knowing I could call the shots meant I was able to place my shots. I was also able to tell the difference between an accurate gun and one that wasn’t built right — regardless of the price.

If I had continued shooting in competition there is no doubt that my average score would have continued to increase until it hit the practical limit of my physiological capability. And then I could have either learned to improve my physiology or been content to remain where I was — a very good shooter but not a great one.

Alas, I quit shooting competitively and my abilities began to degrade over time. I can still call my shots, but not with the degree of certainty that was once possible. I suppose this is like riding a bike. Once you learn how you can always do it, but to win the Tour de France requires continuous training and application.